Trader Joe’s wanted to build a new store in Portland, Oregon. Instead of heading to a tony neighborhood downtown or towards the suburbs, the popular West Coast grocer chose a struggling area of Northeast Portland.
The company selected two acres along Martin Luther King Blvd. that had been vacant for decades. It seemed like the perfect place to create jobs, improve customer options and beautify the neighborhood. City officials, the business community, and residents all seemed thrilled with the plan. Then some community organizers caught wind of it.
The fact that most members of the Portland African-American Leadership Forum didn’t live in the neighborhood was beside the point. “This is a people’s movement for African-Americans and other communities, for self-determination,” member Avel Gordly said in a press conference. Even the NAACP piled on, railing against the project as a “case study in gentrification.” (The area is about 25 percent African-American.)
After a few months of racially tinged accusations and angry demands, Trader Joe’s decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. “We run neighborhood stores and our approach is simple,” a corporate statement said. “If a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe's, we understand, and we won't open the store in question.”
Hours after Trader Joe’s pulled out, PAALF leaders arrived at a previously scheduled press conference trying to process what just happened. The group re-issued demands that the now-cancelled development include affordable housing, mandated jobs based on race, and a small-business slush fund. Instead, the only demand being met is two fallow acres and a lot of anger from the people who actually live nearby.
Archive for the ‘Regulation’ Category.
Wall Street Journal reporter Robin Sidel, along with Andrew Johnson, reported on the success that the federal government is having in barring access to the banking system for a number of businesses. As we've discussed previously, "Operation Choke Point" and related arm-twisting efforts by the Feds are aimed at making life difficult for a variety of targeted businesses. Among those disfavored businesses are online lenders, payday lenders, check cashers, virtual currency dealers, gaming businesses, and marijuana-related businesses (although our beloved US Attorney General has been making noises that he simply will look the other way when it comes to enforcing federal drug laws against marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state law)....
In the article and a companion audio interview, Sidel states that the primary concern appears to be with the difficulty of complying with BSA and money laundering risk. While that's certainly true with many of the businesses, it's also true that some of the businesses have been targeted by the regulators for extra scrutiny because they're in a line of business, like payday lending, where the regulators simply don't like the business model on social policy grounds. If we see the Feds back off of weed but still keep the heat on payday lenders, then the argument that it's all about money laundering risk becomes a bit tenuous.
Congress has ceded far, far too much legislative power to Administration agencies like the EPA. The only check that exists for that power is process -- regulators have to go through fairly elaborate and lengthy steps, including several full stops to publish draft rules and collect public comment. A lot of garbage gets through this process, but at least the worst can be halted by a public or Congressional outcry to draft rules.
But like most government officials, regulators resent having any kind of check on their power. Just like police look for ways to conduct searches without warrants, and even the President looks for ways to rule without Congress, the EPA wants to regulate unfettered by public comment process.
The EPA has found a clever and totally scary way around this. In short, they collude with a friendly environmental group which sues the EPA seeking certain rules that the EPA believes to be too controversial to survive the regulatory process. The EPA settles with the friendly group, and a consent decree is issued imposing the new rules, entirely bypassing any rules-making or public comment process. The EPA then pretends that they were "forced" into these new rules, and as a kicker, the taxpayer funds the whole thing by making large payoffs to the environmental group who initiated the suit part of the settlement. Larry Bell describes the process:
“Sue and settle “ practices, sometimes referred to as “friendly lawsuits”, are cozy deals through which far-left radical environmental groups file lawsuits against federal agencies wherein court-ordered “consent decrees” are issued based upon a prearranged settlement agreement they collaboratively craft together in advance behind closed doors. Then, rather than allowing the entire process to play out, the agency being sued settles the lawsuit by agreeing to move forward with the requested action both they and the litigants want.
And who pays for this litigation? All-too-often we taxpayers are put on the hook for legal fees of both colluding parties. According to a 2011 GAO report, this amounted to millions of dollars awarded to environmental organizations for EPA litigations between 1995 and 2010. Three “Big Green” groups received 41% of this payback, with Earthjustice accounting for 30 percent ($4,655,425). Two other organizations with histories of lobbying for regulations EPA wants while also receiving agency funding are the American Lung Association (ALA) and the Sierra Club.
In addition, the Department of Justice forked over at least $43 million of our money defending EPA in court between 1998 and 2010. This didn’t include money spent by EPA for their legal costs in connection with those rip-offs because EPA doesn’t keep track of their attorney’s time on a case-by-case basis.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has concluded that Sue and Settle rulemaking is responsible for many of EPA’s “most controversial, economically significant regulations that have plagued the business community for the past few years”. Included are regulations on power plants, refineries, mining operations, cement plants, chemical manufacturers, and a host of other industries. Such consent decree-based rulemaking enables EPA to argue to Congress: “The court made us do it.”
Obama's minimum wage push could be an honest attempt to reduce poverty, but since only a trivial percentage of the American work force earns the minimum wage, and most of those are in starter jobs rather than trying to support a family, it does not make a lot of sense.
On the other hand, it could be another cynical payoff to unions that form the backbone of Obama's political support
Organized labor's instantaneous support for President Obama's recent proposal to hike the minimum wage doesn't make much sense at first glance. The average private-sector union member—at least one who still has a job—earns $22 an hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's a far cry from the current $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, or the $9 per hour the president has proposed. Altruistic solidarity with lower-paid workers isn't the reason for organized labor's cheerleading, either.
The real reason is that some unions and their members directly benefit from minimum wage increases—even when nary a union member actually makes the minimum wage.
The Center for Union Facts analyzed collective-bargaining agreements obtained from the Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards. The data indicate that a number of unions in the service, retail and hospitality industries peg their base-line wages to the minimum wage.
The Labor Department's collective-bargaining agreements file has a limited number of contracts available, so we were unable to determine how widespread the practice is. But the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union says that pegging its wages to the federal minimum is commonplace. On its website, the UFCW notes that "oftentimes, union contracts are triggered to implement wage hikes in the case of minimum wage increases." Such increases, the UFCW says, are "one of the many advantages of being a union member."
The labor contracts that we examined used a variety of methods to trigger the increases. The two most popular formulas were setting baseline union wages as a percentage above the state or federal minimum wage or mandating a ﬂat wage premium above the minimum wage.
Well, we have completed our response to minimum wage increases in California. As a review, California is raising its minimum wage from $8 to $10 (or 25%) in two steps starting this July 1. I will confess that in some of these cases the causes are complex, and are not just due to minimum wage changes but also other creeping California regulatory issues (particularly the first two).
- Suspended operation and closed on large campground in Ventura County that employed about 25 people
- Suspended investment / expansion plans at two other campgrounds
- Raised prices everywhere else, on average adding $3 to a $20 camping fee. (this is inevitable when wages are increased 25% in a business where more than half the costs are tied to wages and margins are around 5%)
The only reason I take the time to write this is that I think this tends to demonstrate that 1) minimum wage increases can have a real economic impact and 2) just looking at job losses after the date the wage takes effect can miss most of this economic impact.
To this latter point, a lot of the impact is not necessarily job losses. We see lost investment, which perhaps means fewer jobs in the future but there is no way to measure that. We see price increases, which affects consumers and disposable income. And we see some job losses, but note that the job losses were 6 months before the law goes into effect.
We are left with a certainty that the minimum wage had a real economic effect but a suspicion that, at least in this case, that effect would not be measured.
By the way, there may also be a lesson here for those who believe that the entire problem in the economy is one of not enough aggregate demand. In the last month I walked away from a million dollars a year of demand, because it was impossible to serve profitably, in large part due to regulatory issues.
I have a couple of quotes in this article on the difficulty of doing business in California.
On the same topic, Megan McArdle quoted extensively from my post on leaving Ventura County, and has some comments of her own.
There should be a word for "entirely predictable unintended consequences". The Germans have come up with some good words for complex ideas, like schadenfreude, so maybe we can outsource the task to them.
Anyway, I just finished a book called Season of the Witch, about San Francisco in the 1960's and 1970's. Churchill once said that “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume” and I am reminded of this quote when reading about San Francisco in these two decades. Written by a Progressive sympathetic to San Francisco's bleeding leftist edge (the author cannot mention Ronald Reagan without also expressing his disdain), it is never-the-less pretty hard-hitting when things go off the rails (e.g. the enablement of Jim Jones by the entire leftist power structure).
Much of the narrative is about the great influx of lost youth and seekers of alternative lifestyles into the city; the attendant social, crime, and drug issues this created; and a quest for tolerance and social peace. As such, it is not a book about political or economic policy per se, it's more about the people involved. But we do get glimpses of the policies that key players like Harvey Milk, Dianne Feinstein, and Willie Brown were advocating.
What struck me most were the policies these folks on the Progressive Left had on housing. They had three simultaneous policy goals:
- Limit San Francisco from building upward (taller). San Francisco is a bit like Manhattan in that the really desirable part where everyone wants to live is pretty small. There was (and I suppose still is) a desire by landowners to build taller buildings, to house more people on the same bit of valuable land. Progressives (along with many others across the political spectrum) were fighting to have the city prevent this increased density as a threat to San Francisco's "character".
- Reduce population density in existing buildings. Progressive reformers were seeking to get rid of crazy-crowded rooming houses like those in Chinatown
- Control and cap rents. This was the "next thing" that Harvey Milk, for example, was working on just before he was shot -- bringing rent controls to San Francisco.
My first thought was to wonder how a person could hold these three goals in mind without recognizing the inevitable consequences, but I guess it's that cognitive dissonance that keeps socialism alive. But it should not be hard to figure out what the outcome should be of combining: a) some of the most desirable real estate in the country with b) an effective cap on density and thus capacity and c) caps on rents. Rental housing is going to be shifted to privately owned units (coops and condos) and prices of those are going to skyrocket. You are going to end up with real estate only the rich can afford to purchases and a shortage of rental properties at any price. Those people with grandfathered controlled rents will be stuck there, without any mobility.
So I was reading this the other day. It turns out there is a severe shortage of affordable rental properties in San Francisco, and lately there have been a record number of conversions of rental properties to private ownership.
With the area economy rebounding, San Francisco is in the midst of a housing crisis as many residents are evicted from their apartments. With rents strictly regulated, an increasing number of San Francisco owners are getting out of the rental business and cashing out their properties to turn them into co-ops. Steven Greenhut argues that rent control actually forces prices upward, especially over the long term, by diminishing the supply of available rental housing.
Update: One recurring theme through the book is that progressive elements in SF saw their government and particularly their police force as "bullies". They used this term a lot -- and they were right. So it is interesting today to see all these progressives and how they act with power. Turns out, they are all bullies too, just on different issues.
By the way, the Dirty Harry movies are way more interesting after reading this book. Season of the Witch is what all this looked like to a progressive. The Dirty Harry movies are what the same events looked like from a different perspective.
I can't think of any justification for the FDA's shutdown of 23andme's genetic testing service except one of pure control. It is yet another case where you and I are not smart enough or sophisticated enough to be trusted with information about our own bodies. Because we might use the information in some way with which Maya Shankar might not agree.
Let me be clear, I am not offended by all regulation of genetic tests. Indeed, genetic tests are already regulated. To be precise, the labs that perform genetic tests are regulated by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) as overseen by the CMS (here is an excellent primer). The CLIA requires all labs, including the labs used by 23andMe, to be inspected for quality control, record keeping and the qualifications of their personnel. The goal is to ensure that the tests are accurate, reliable, timely, confidential and not risky to patients. I am not offended when the goal of regulation is to help consumers buy the product that they have contracted to buy.
What the FDA wants to do is categorically different. The FDA wants to regulate genetic tests as a high-riskmedical device that cannot be sold until and unless the FDA permits it be sold.
Moreover, the FDA wants to judge not the analytic validity of the tests, whether the tests accurately read the genetic code as the firms promise (already regulated under the CLIA) but the clinical validity, whether particular identified alleles are causal for conditions or disease. The latter requirement is the death-knell for the products because of the expense and time it takes to prove specific genes are causal for diseases. Moreover, it means that firms like 23andMe will not be able to tell consumers about their own DNA but instead will only be allowed to offer a peek at the sections of code that the FDA has deemed it ok for consumers to see.
Alternatively, firms may be allowed to sequence a consumer’s genetic code and even report it to them but they will not be allowed to tell consumers what the letters mean. Here is why I think the FDA’s actions are unconstitutional. Reading an individual’s code is safe and effective. Interpreting the code and communicating opinions about it may or may not be safe–just like all communication–but it falls squarely under the First Amendment.
I know that libertarians want to kill the FDA altogether. That is never going to happen. But what might be more realistic is to shift their governing law from validating that medical treatments are safe and effective to just safe.
Brad Warbiany has more, including real life examples of how 23andme's service has been useful to his family.
The other day, Kevin Drum wrote a post wondering why we had so few doctors per capital in the United States and observing, reasonably, that this might be one reason to explain why physician compensation rates were higher here than in other countries.
He and Matt Yglesisus argued that this smaller number of doctors and higher compensation rates were due to a physician-operated cartel. This is a proposition I and most libertarians would agree with. In fact I, and many others apparently, wrote to him saying yes there is a cartel, but ironically it owed its existence to government interventionism in the economy and health care. In a true free market, such a cartel would only have value so long as it added value to consumers.
Drum seems to have missed the point. In this post, he reacts to themany commenters who said that government power was at the heart of the cartel by saying no, it's not the government because doctors control the nuts and bolts decisions of the cartel. Look! Doctors are in all the key positions in the key organizations that control the cartel!
Well, no sh*t. Of course they are. Just as lawyers occupy all the key slots in the ABA. But neither the ABA nor these doctors cartels would have nearly the power that they have if it were not for government laws that give them that power (e.g. giving the ABA and AMA monopoly power over licensing and school credentialing). I had never heard of the RUC before, which apparently controls internship slots, but its ability to exercise this control seems pretty tied to the billions in government money of which it controls the distribution.
Let's get out of medicine for a second. I am sure Best Buy wishes it had some mechanism to control new entrants into its business. Theoretically (and it may have even done this) it could form the Association of Bricks and Mortar Electronics Retailers (ABMER). It could even stake a position that it did not think consumers should shop at upstarts who are not ABMER members. Take that Amazon! Of course, without any particular value proposition to do so, consumers are likely to ignore the ABMER and go buy at Amazon.com anyway.
Such cartel schemes are tried all the time, and generally fail (the one exception I wonder about is the Visa/Mastercard consortium, but that is for another post). Anyway, the only way the ABMER would really work is if some sort of government licensing law were passed that required anyone selling consumer electronics to be ABMER members. And my guess is that the ABMER might not invite Amazon.com to join. All of a sudden, Amazon is out of the electronics business. Or maybe it just gets forced to deliver all its product through Best Buy stores, for a fee of course.
Crazy stupid, huh? The government would never write licensing laws to protect a small group of incumbent retailers, right? Well, tell that to Elon Musk. Tesla has been trying for years to bring its cars to consumers in innovative ways, but have time and again run up against state auto dealership laws that effectively force all cars to be sold through the state dealer cartel. Or you can talk to California wine growers, who have tried for years to sell directly to consumers in other states but get forced into selling through the state liquor wholesaler cartels.
All these cartels are controlled and manned by the industry, but they are enforced -- they are given their teeth -- by the government.
Here are a few off-the-top-of-my-head examples of cartel actions in the medical field admittedly initiated and supported and administered by doctors, that are enforced by state and federal law:
- Certificate of need laws prevent hospitals from expanding or adding new equipment without government permission. The boards in this process are usually stacked with the most powerful local hospitals, who use the law to prevent competition and keep prices high. This is a great example where Drum could say that the decisions are essentially being made by hospitals. Yes they are, but they only have the power to do so because the government that grants them this licensing power over competitive capacity. Without this government backing, new hospitals would just laugh at them.
- Government licensing laws let the AMA effectively write the criteria for licencing doctors, which are kept really stringent to keep the supply low. Even if I wanted to only put in stitches all day to busted up kids, I would still have to go through 8 years of medical school and residency. Drum and Yglesias focus on the the number of medical schools and residencies. I do not know if these are an issue or not. But what clearly is an issue is the fact that one has to endure 8 expensive years or more just to be able to hand out birth control or stitch up a skinned knee.
- Government licensing laws help doctors fight a constant rearguard action against nurse practitioners and other less expensively trained folks who could easily do half or more of what doctors do today.
- The FDA and prescription drug law not only helps pharma companies keep profits up, but also increases business to doctors as people have to have a prescription for certain drugs they could easily buy on their own (e.g birth control pills, antibiotics).
- The government limits immigration and thus labor mobility, reducing the ability of doctors from other countries to move here.
I am sure there are more.
There is no denying that in the middle of every industry cartel are insiders who are maneuvering to increase the rents of the incumbent players. In fact, I am sure that every industry has participants who dream about getting off the competitive treadmill and creating a nice industry cartel, and would be the first to sign up. But none of these dreams are ever going to happen unless they are enabled by the coercive power of government.
Of course, the consistent answer is, well, we just have the wrong guys running things. If we had the right guys, it would work great. But this kind of co-option always happens. Look at taxis and liquor license holders and the entire banking sector. Five years ago I would bet that progressives thought they finally had that right guy in the administration. And look what has happened. Banking cronyism is as strong as ever. Obama's signature health legislation is full of crony giveaways. In 6 months the health insurers are going to be running the entire PPACA infrastructure to their own benefit.
update: This post is verging on the "is cronyism capitalism's fault" argument. Rather than go into that again, it is here.
Arkansas orthodontist Ben Burris was hauled in front of the state dental board in September after dentists in northeast Arkansas complained that he was offering dental cleanings to the general public in his Braces by Burris orthodontics clinics. The price for dental cleanings was $98 for an adult and $68 for a child, which Burris has said is about half of what dentists in northeast Arkansas typically charge.
Burris said most of the patients who need cleanings don’t have a dentist, but are checked by one of the three orthodontists in his clinic. Also, Burris said he offered the service because it was good for his business and good for the public. Some of his competitors “have gone absolutely ballistic” over the price and complained to the board, Burris said.
MP: Of course, the Arkansas dental cartel has no basis to complain directly about the low prices for dental cleaning at Braces by Burris clinics, so they are instead complaining that the clinic’s low-cost teeth cleaning services violate the states Dental Practice Act, which prohibits orthodontists and other specialists from practicing “outside their specialty.”
Beginning in November 2016, all new motorcoaches and some other large buses must be equipped by manufacturers with three-point lap-shoulder belts, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
Ahh, but there is an exemption
The rule doesn’t apply to school buses or city transit buses.
What do these two exempted categories have in common: They mostly belong to governments (public schools or public transit agencies). So the government comes up with an expensive new regulation, but exempts itself from it, applying it to only private operators (who own a minority of buses in the country).
I was reading about the DOJ push back on the proposed American-US Airways merger. It strikes me that you never want to be the last merger in an industry consolidation. When the consolidation begins, say with 8 players, a merger -- even if it results in a very big company -- reduces the number of competitors from 8 to 7. After a while, though, the later mergers are proposing to reduce the players from, say, 4 to 3. This will look worse to the DOJ, who by this point in a consolidation may be feeling remorseful, in retrospect, that it let some of the earlier deals go unchallenged. So the last deal gets to catch up / payback from the earlier deals.
I think this is in part what is happening with the American merger. I don't have the data, but my sense is that earlier mergers (e.g. United and Continental) were far more problematic from an anti-trust standpoint.
Disclosure: living in Phoenix, whose US Airways hub will likely get downsized or eliminated in the merger, my life will be worse likely if the merger is approved. Executives swear Phoenix will remain a major hub but most residents here consider this a "If you like your hub you can keep it" type promise.
Here’s a project for all unemployed young people – say, ages 18 through 21 – in America today. Go to a nearby supermarket or restaurant or lawn-care company or pet store and ask for a job at the minimum wage. If you are denied, offer to work for $4.00 per hour. The owner or manager will almost surely decline, saying that it’s against the law.
“Would you like to hire me at $4.00?” you ask.
“Well yes I would” is the answer you’re likely to get in reply.
“So, hire me at that wage. I’m an adult, I’m sober, and I have no mental issues. I’m willing to work for $4.00 per hour.”
“You don’t get it, kid. I can’t hire you at that wage. I’ll get fined, or worse. Go away.”
“Ok, I’ll leave. But no one – including you – will hire me at $7.25 per hour. What am I supposed to do?”
“Look kid. That’s your problem. I’m sorry. I don’t make the laws, but I gotta follow them. Go away now.”
I know that this is a realistic scenario because I have this conversation with employees all the time. Except in my case, applicants are generally not 18 years old but 70 years old.
A bit of background: My company operates campground and other recreation areas mainly using retired people who live on-site in their own RV's. Few of my 400+ employees are under 65 and several are over 90.
There are several reasons this conversation occurs:
- As my employees get older, and perhaps sicker with various disabilities, their work slows down to the point that it falls under our productivity expectations. Employees may come to me saying they want to stay busy but they know they don't work very fast but they would be happy to work for $5 or $4 an hour if they could just keep this job they love. (There is a Federal law that allows waiving of minimum wages for disability situations. We tried it -- once. The paperwork was daunting and the approval came 7 months after the application -- 2 months after the seasonal employee had already gone home for the year).
- Many people like to stay busy but face wage caps where they begin to lose their Social Security. They want to keep their total income under the wage cap. We try to create some jobs that require fewer hours so they can get their wages down that way, but in many cases we have a limited number of on-site living spots and a fixed amount of work such that each person occupying a living spot must do a certain amount of work to make sure it all gets done. So at some point we can't give them fewer hours, and then they will ask for lower pay.
I frequently have to tell people I simply cannot pay them less. They ask if they can sign a paper saying they want to be paid less, and I tell them something like "no, the law assumes you are a gullible rube and that I am evil and infinitely powerful so that if you sign a paper, it just means I forced you to do it." Which is all true, that is exactly the logic of the law.
People look at me funny sometimes when I say the minimum wage law limits employee rights by putting a floor on what they may charge for their labor. This is an odd way of putting it for them, because minimum wage laws are generally explained in the oppressor-oppressed model, but it makes perfect sense from my experience.
Normally this would be a good Friday story, but you can't always control when Washington is going to bring the crazy.
The Obama administration on Tuesday defended its effort to regulate the tax return preparation business for the first time in U.S. history, basing its case largely on a 19th century law dealing with horses lost or killed in the Civil War....
[the Obama Administration attorney] explained that the administration sees the "Horse Act of 1884" as providing ample authority for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to regulate the tens of thousands of preparers who fill out millions of Americans' federal tax returns.
Here is the logic, such that it is
A post-war industry emerged of agents who would press war loss claims for a fee, usually a percentage of the claim collected. Soon, claim values were being fraudulently inflated.
In response, the government started regulating these intermediaries, barring unscrupulous ones and certifying honest ones as "enrolled agents," a title that is still used today by people who represent clients in matters before the IRS.
The IRS is arguing that tax return preparers represent their customers in much the same way that enrolled agents do, so the agency should be able to expand regulation to include preparers.
Note that tax preparers are not actually IRS enrolled agents, they just argue they are kind of sort of like them (in that they both deal with tax returns, I suppose). But enrolled agents explicitly act as an intermediary between citizens and the government in disputes and claims. This is not the role of tax preparers. They merely charge a fee to fill out time-consuming and confusion paperwork. My tax accountant has never once had any conversations with the IRS on my behalf, nor should he. I would engage an attorney for that.
A Paris appeals court this week ordered the French cosmetics chain Sephora to close its flagship boutique on the iconic Champs Élysées boulevard at 9pm, angering salespeople who say they have freely accepted to work until midnight for years and now risk losing their jobs.
Following a trend among other businesses on Paris's most celebrated street, Sephora began extending its opening hours in 1996. Its designer perfumes, makeup and other cosmetics were, until this week, sold until midnight between Monday and Thursday, and as late as 1am on Friday and Saturday.
Citing labour laws that restrict night-time work, France’s largest unions collectively sued the shop. An administrative court sided with Sephora on December 6, 2012, allowing the cosmetics giant to keep its exceptionally late hours on the Champs-Élysées.
However, the appeals court overturned that decision on Sunday, agreeing with unions that the store’s “normal activity” does not “make night-time work a necessarity,” as the law states.
Assume the following conditions:
- I am increasingly liable for any dumbass thing my employees say or do. It does not matter if it is absolutely against my values and company rules, if someone, say, uses a racial epithet with a customer or another employee, I will likely at least get sued. Given my deductibles on insurance, I am out $20,000 a case even if I win.
- Minimum wages have increased faster than the production value of unskilled, inexperienced laborers.
- Obamacare is raising the minimum cost of a full-time employee by at least $2,000-$3,000 a year, not including the as-yet-to-be-define but likely expensive record-keeping and administrative requirements
- In states like California, the law increasingly gives employees the ability to make new claims on my income (e.g. fake workers comp and disability claims) or to even make themselves un-firable (by asking for a family medical leave, or claiming a disability, or claiming to be a whistle-blower).
Against this backdrop, what am I going to do? I am going to hire more skilled and experienced workers who justify my minimum employment costs. I am going to hire mature people less likely to get me in trouble via their immature actions. I am going to hire people with a long work history so I can see there is not a history of scams and fraud.
In other words, I am going to hire older people. And thus:
Of all the issues I raised above, the first one gets the least attention but in our customer contact business is perhaps the most important. The cost of hiring a knucklehead is immense. And the folks that do stupid stuff in 1 are often the very same people who try to take us in 4.
Taxes are usually the heart of the discussion when people talk about the bad business climate in California. And certainly their taxes are just insanely high. But for folks like me, an even bigger barrier is the regulatory environment. We are closing several operations in California at the end of this year mainly because we are just exhausted with the compliance costs and regulatory barriers to expansion. In Ventura County, for example, we have a camping operation that has never made money because it is under-scale. We have the capital and desire to expand it, but it has just proven impossible to do so.
A big reason for this is the regulation in California and in Ventura County. We once had to get something like 7 permits just to remove a dangerous and dilapidated deck. We added a 500 gallon fuel tank for fueling boats (to eliminate the unsafe practice of driving in and out of town with about 100 5-gallon fuel containers) and it took over 3-years of trekking to multiple county and state offices to get it permitted. We thus despaired of trying to get a campground expansion approved. Approximately the same expansion that cost us just under a million dollars in Alabama several years ago was going to cost over $5 million and Ventura County, and the County was still piling on requirements when we gave up. And this is even before we fart with crazy California break laws and other nuttiness.
I have often told folks that I would love to see a liberal defender of all this regulatory overreach try to construct and open a restaurant in Ventura County. It would be fascinating to watch. (All this musing was touched off by this article on underground restaurants that try to sidestep this regulatory cost and mess). We are a service business and California still has a lot of money, so we still operate in California. But I continue to wonder why any company, like a manufacturer, remains in California. Sell there yes, but produce anything you can out of state and ship it in. Even as a service business we do a bit of this, no longer stick-building anything but having all our buildings, cabins, stores, etc built in Arizona as modular buildings and then shipped to California. Even our labor force is partially "imported", as we hire folks who live in their RV's to come from all over the country to live and work at our campgrounds.
As I read the other day, if Silicon Valley were not already in California, would anyone in their right mind put it there?
Postscript: One other story: California's regulatory environment has caused a real shift in the culture as well. At one location that we are closing this year, a local attorney has regular dinner meetings with groups of our employees to brainstorm among the group to see if they can come up with something to sue us over.
Frequent readers will know that I have been predicting for over a year that the economic story of 2013 would be the end of full time work in the retail service sector due to the PPACA, or Obamacare (example). QED, from the most recent economic report:
In June, the household survey reported that part-time jobs soared by 360,000 to 28,059,000 – an all time record high. Full time jobs? Down 240,000. And looking back at the entire year, so far in 2013, just 130K Full-Time Jobs have been added, offset by a whopping 557K Part-Time jobs.
It is unclear how the 1-year delay in the employer mandate implementation will affect this. Probably not a lot -- based on the way Obamacare was being implemented, companies needed to be switching workers to part-time now (really, early this year) so that they would qualify as part-time for next year (a company needed 6-12 months of records from this year to prove the employee was part-time). In other words, most companies have already switched, and having done so, will not likely switch back just for one year.
Besides, as I have written before, it is actually cheaper and easier for many retail establishments to stitch together full coverage of their business hours from part-time workers. Making jobs full-time is a hassle, and was done by most of us mainly for competition reasons, ie to be able to attract the best employees. Other laws like California's absurd lunch-break mandate (which has caused me to make working through lunch a firing offense at our company) just add to the cost of offering full-time work. If everyone is only offering part-time, and the labor market is weak with plenty of workers available, there is no reason to go back to offering full time employment.
Well, it certainly comes as happy news to this correspondent that the Administration announced this week it will delay health insurance mandates on businesses. Our company has spent a ton of time since last November trying to minimize the expected cost of the mandates -- the initial cost estimates of which for our business came in at three times our annual net income. Our preparation has been hampered by the fact that the IRS still has not finalized rules for how these mandates will be applied to a seasonal work force. Like many retail service businesses, we have studied a number of models for converting most of our work force to part time, thus making the mandates irrelevant for us.
I know this last statement has earned me a fair share of crap in the comments section as a heartless capitalist swine, but the vitriol is just absurd. Many of the folks criticizing me can't or don't want to imagine themselves running a business, so let's say you have an annual salary of $40,000. Now, on top of all your other expenses, the government just mandated that you have to pay an extra $120,000 a year for something. That is the situation my business is in. Are you just going to sit there and allow your savings to become a smoking hole in the ground, or are you going to do something to avoid it? Unlike the government, I cannot run a permanent deficit and I cannot create new revenues by fiat. Congress allowed business owners a legal way to avoid the health insurance mandate, and I am going to grab that option rather than be bankrupted. So are every other service business I know of, which is why I have predicted that full-time jobs are on the verge of disappearing in the retail service sector.
Anyway, it appears that the IRS and the Administration could not get their act together fast enough to make this happen. Not a surprise, I suppose. You and I have both been in committee meetings, and have seen groups devolve into arguments aver useless minutia. This is not a monopoly of the government, it happens in the private sector as well. But in the private sector, in good companies, a leader steps in and says "I have heard enough, it is going to be done X way, now go do it." In government, the incentives work against leaders cutting through the Gordian knot in this way, so the muddle can carry on forever.
There are at least two more shoes that are going to drop, one bad, one good:
- On the bad side, while companies like mine complain about the cost of the PPACA, they are going to freak when they see the paperwork. My sense is that we are going to be required to know in great detail what kind of health insurance policy every one of our employees have, even if it was not obtained through our company, and will have to report that regularly to the government. In addition, there are gong to be new reporting requirements to new agencies for wages and hours. It is going to be a big mess, and my uneducated guess is that someone in the last week or so looked at that mess and decided to hold off announcing it.
But readers can expect a Coyote freak out whenever it is announced, because it is going to be bad. Wal-mart will be fine, it has the money to build systems to do that stuff, but companies like mine with 500 employees but only 2 staff people are going to get slammed. There is a reason government agencies, even government schools, have more staff than line personnel -- they live and breath and think in terms of complex reporting and paperwork. They love it because for many it is their job security. Swimming every day in that water, it is no surprise they impose it without thought on the private sector. This makes it hard for companies like ours that try to have 99% of our employees actually serving customers rather than pushing paper.
- The individual mandate is toast for next year. No way it happens. If the Administration cannot get the corporate piece done on time, there is no way in hell it is going to get the exchanges up and running. And even if they do, some prominent states with political influence with this President, like Illinois and California, likely will not get their exchanges done in time and will beg for a delay.
That's OK, I Am Sure They Are Gaining All the Business Skills They Need in Their Ecuadoran Gender Studies Class
Our government's plan to make sure that all young people are unemployed and have no ability to develop vital job skills continues to proceed:
Unpaid internships have long been a path of opportunity for students and recent grads looking to get a foot in the door in the entertainment, publishing and other prominent industries, even if it takes a generous subsidy from Mom and Dad. But those days of working for free could be numbered after a federal judge in New York ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie "Black Swan."
A few thoughts:
- It has always amazed me that Progressives, who are the most likely to argue that money isn't everything, simply insist on ignoring non-monetary benefits of jobs. Jobs offer money, yes, but can also teach vital skills and benefits which can dwarf the monetary component for some. The skills taught in an internship can be sophisticated -- e.g. how to produce a radio broadcast -- or prosaic -- e.g. how to show up on time and work with others, but they have real value to young people. I know there are jobs my 19-year-old would take for free to gain experience and/or break into a particular industry. Jobs can also offer people of all ages intellectual or physical challenges. I have many people in the 70's who work for me merely to stay active, meet new people, and enjoy the outdoors.
- There will still be one place to still get unpaid internships -- Congress, since they exempt themselves from these laws.
- I am always simply amazed at people who accept an employment deal -- in this case exchanging their labor for experience but no money -- and then go to court because the deal was, err, exactly what they were led to expect. This reminds me of people who buy a home next to the airport because it is cheap and then sue over the noise.
So, what is the next danger to the Republic that requires coercive government control to protect us all from disaster? Pedicabs:
Operating a pedicab used to be cheap and easy. A person could make a buck with little or no overhead and without restrictive, burdensome regulations.
That’s no longer true in some Valley cities that have approved ordinances limiting who can operate pedicabs on their streets. Scottsdale is the latest to tighten its rules, joining Phoenix and Glendale. No other Valley municipality regulates pedicabs.
To continue doing business in Scottsdale, pedicab operators must have a valid Arizona driver’s license, maintain insurance and adhere to regulations pertaining to the safety and visibility of the pedicab. The ordinance, which became law on May 9, includes penalties for non-compliance but does not specify any inspections.
Phoenix’s ordinance, which went into effect in August 2008, was in response to concerns and complaints from downtown stakeholders and patrons regarding pedicab activity, city spokeswoman Sina Matthes said. The ordinance is stricter than Scottsdale’s, requiring Police Department inspections and inspection tags.
Glendale’s ordinance, which became law in late 2007, requires a city-issued license and limits the hours of operation and what roads can be used by operators, said Sgt. Jay O’Neill of the Glendale Police Department.
Why the regulation. What safety disaster led to this? Well, apparently some poor pedicab operator allowed himself to be hit by a drunk driver.
Scottsdale’s ordinance was prompted by a Jan. 4 crash involving a suspected drunken driver and a pedicab trailer on Scottsdale Road near Rose Lane. The two pedicab passengers suffered serious head and spine injuries.
Scottsdale police determined that there were no mechanical or safety violations.
Here is some government cluelessness: it is OK if we rape you as long as we ask for your feedback first
In Scottsdale, operators must maintain at all times a commercial general-liability insurance policy of at least $1 million per occurrence and $2 million annual aggregate.
Jay Ewing Jr., owner and operator of Big Papa Human Powered Transportation, said four people have asked him if he wanted to purchase their equipment because they are going out of business in connection with the Scottsdale regulations. He says a pedicab operator can expect to pay at least $250 a month for insurance....
Scottsdale police Cmdr. Jeff Walther said the transition has gone smoothly because all operators were made aware of the proposed changes and were given the opportunity to provide input before the regulations were approved by the council.
“I was surprised, my folks were surprised, that almost immediately there seemed to be a pretty dramatic decline in operators,” Walther said.
I wish I could remember where I read this to give proper credit, but it is funny that the folks who are absolutely bending over backwards to bundle health care want to unbundle cable TV. Think about it -- the person who just wants MSNBC but has to buy the whole cable package to get it is getting hosed far less badly than the young person next year who needs no medical care but will have to buy a pre-paid medical plan designed for a 65-year-old.
But I believe that cable unbundling will achieve the opposite effect from what most people expect. And the key to my analysis rests, as do all important economic issues, on the difference between average and at the margin. This is a repost from 2007
[A la Carte cable pricing] will reduce the number of interesting niche choices on cable.
For some reason, it is terribly hard to convince people of this. In fact, supporters of this regulation argue just the opposite. They argue that this is a better plan for folks who only are passionate about, say, the kite-flying channel, because they only have to pay for the channel they want rather than all of basic cable to get this one station. This is a fine theory, but it only works if the kite-flying channel still exists in the new regulatory regime. Let me explain.
Clearly the kite-flying channel serves a niche market. Not that many people are going to be interested enough in kite flying alone to pay $5 a month for it. But despite this niche status, it may well make sense for the cable companies to add it to their basic package. Remember that the basic package already attracts the heart of the market. Between CNN and ESPN and the Discovery Channel and the History Channel, etc., the majority of the market already sees enough value in the package to sign on.
Let's say the cable company wants to add a channel to their basic package, and they have two choices. They have a sports channel they could add (let's say there are already 5 other sports channels in the package) or they can add the Kite-flying channel. Far more people are likely to watch the sports channel than the kite flying channel. But in the current pricing regime, this is not necessarily what matters to the cable company. Their concern is to get more people to sign up for the cable TV. And it may be that everyone who could possibly be attracted to sports is already a subscriber, and a sixth sports channel would not attract any new subscribers. It is entirely possible that a niche channel like the kite-flying channel will actually bring more incremental subscribers to the basic package than another sports channel, and thus be a more attractive addition to the basic package for the cable company.
But now let's look at the situation if a la carte pricing was required. In this situation, individual channels don't support the package, but must stand on their own and earn revenue. The cable company's decision-making on adding an extra channel is going to be very different in this world. In this scenario, they are going to compare the new sports channel with the Kite-flying channel based on how many people will sign up and pay for that standalone channel. And in this case, a sixth (and probably seventh and eighth and ninth) sports channel is going to look better to them than the Kite-flying channel. Niche channels that were added to bring greater reach to their basic cable package are going to be dropped in favor of more of what appeals to the majority.
I think about this all the time when I scan the dial on Sirius radio, which sells its services as one package rather than a la carte. There are several stations that I always wonder, "does anyone listen to that?" But Sirius doesn't need another channel for the majority out at #300 -- they need channels that will bring new niche audiences to the package. So an Egyptian reggae channel may be more valuable as the 301st offering than a 20th sports channel. This is what we may very likely be giving up if we continue down this road of regulating away cable package pricing. Yeah, in a la carte pricing people who want just the kite-flying channel will pay less for it, but will it still be available?
Note the key to this analysis is the limited channel capacity of cable or satellite. This is not a pure free market, where there is always room for another niche offering to try their hand with consumers. Cable channels are more like products competing for limited floor space at Costco - to make the cut in an a la carte world, a channel has to do a lot of business.
Can websites be forced to change to accommodate the disabled — by using “simpler language” to appeal to the “intellectually disabled or by making them accessible to the blind and deaf at considerable expense?
Apparently, the White House is gearing up to force costly changes on websites in the name of ADA compliance. The implications could be staggering, and in certain scenarios would basically force me to certainly close down this site, and likely close down many of my business sites.
Generally, the First Amendment gives you the right to choose who to talk to and how, without government interference. There is no obligation to make your message accessible to the whole world, and the government can’t force you to make your speech accessible to everyone, much less appealing to them. The government couldn’t require you to give speeches in English rather than Spanish …
But now, the Obama administration appears to be planning to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to force many web sites to either accommodate the disabled, or shut down.
Yes, more evidence that the PPACA is ending full-time work in the American retail service sector
Circle K Southeast joined a growing list of national companies shifting workers to part-time status this week, in order to avoid paying Obamacare’s mandatory benefits, CBS-WTOC reports.
The alternative is to pay a $2,000 fine per fulltime worker who is not covered, leading Circle K to become the latest in a long line of companies to slice employee hours to avoid increased costs.
Here was my article several weeks ago in Forbes, though I have been predicting this since last year (when my own company started planning for the same change).
This came to me via a reader. Apparently, after working to make sure that toilets, shower heads, and washing machines no longer work as well as they used to, government regulators have ruined the gas can. I still (thankfully) use my old plastic can that is about 20 years old, but apparently two changes have been mandated
- There is a self-closing mechanism at the end of the spout that work fine in modern cars designed for this technology but don't work at all in lawnmowers and boats. By my own observation, most gas cans are used to fill machinery other than cars.
- There is no vent. Yes, there is no way to let air smoothly into the can as gas is poured out, meaning for gas to pour at all air must come in through the spout. This results in slow and erratic flow rates.
Readers may remember my showerhead hacking. Though I had not heard of the new gas cans, several of my employees had. It turns out that to run a business, there is no way you want your folks filling a boat motor with one of these new cans, it takes forever. Fortunately my folks have already figured out how to hack the cans. It is easy to drill and tap a hole in the soft plastic, and insert a screw plug. Then, this plug can be removed to vent. Of course this is less safe than the old cans with a simple, non-removable snap on plug cover -- it is easy for someone to forget to plug the vent.
From a reader, comes this story of St. Louis so far refusing to grant a license to a woman who wants to operate a clothing sales truck (in a parallel to the growing food truck business). What is the official explanation for denying her a license? These government folks are refreshingly honest, not even bothering with the BS about consumer protection and jumping right to the real reason - incumbent businesses don't want new forms of competition.
NewsChannel 5 received this written explanation from Maggie Crane, the communications director for Mayor Francis Slay:
"We like the idea of fashion trucks a lot, but we still need to find out if there is a way to license mobile boutiques that does not put brick and mortar stores, who have already made substantial investments in their neighborhoods, at a disadvantage. We will also need to identify neighborhoods that will welcome them.
"We went through that process with food trucks a few years ago. Food trucks, for example, must abide by an enforceable set of rules outlining everything from safety regulations to where and for how long they can park.
"Our prediction is that the region's first legal fashion trucks will be here in the City. But, for now, they are pirates."
Note by this same logic Amazon should have been banned by St. Louis, as certainly bookstores in St. Louis had made substantial investments in their neighborhoods. In fact, one of my favorite book stores used to be in Clayton, near St. Louis, though I fear it has died (anyone know, I can't remember the name, was a large independent). In fact, that is an advantage of the Internet I had never considered -- it allows new businesses to challenge old ones without harassment by local licensing and zoning authorities.